I worry a bit about getting sucked into all of this, but I'll bite.
First, in so far as comparing the current coronavirus situation to the flu some people are underselling the flu. I believe a large part of people's confusion regarding the flu is how readily the term gets used to describe a set of symptoms, but that might not actually be caused by the influenza virus. In a practical sense its kind of okay because people understand what you mean if you say you have the flu, but that isn't always true. The actual flu should always be treated seriously, and it can and has caused many deaths, and well beyond just the elderly or immune compromised. If anyone is not familiar, look into the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918-1920, which killed millions of people (something like 3% of the world population at the time). The candor with which some of you are regarding the coronavirus and influenza is more what I would view opportunistic pathogens with. Things like Pseudomonas aeruginosa or Legionella are things that I can dismiss as I'm a healthy adult in my 30s.
Its an easy comparison to want to make, coronavirus to influenza, given that they're both respiratory viruses, but there is a reason to be more concerned with the current coronavirus situation.
Influenza virus is well understood and has management mechanisms in place. Scientists do their best to predict and make vaccines each year to the emerging variants, and we have heaps of epidemiological data regarding influenza infections, spread, and treatment. We have things like oseltamivir to treat influenza. Despite all of this, we still can have epidemics such as the 2009 swine flu. While it was "only" 15000 deaths, the point stands that even with a well understood virus and counteractive measures in place it can still get out of hand.
With the coronavirus situation, we're much more in unknown territory. There isn't a vaccine. Medications are being trialed but we don't know the efficacy at this point, nor will we for awhile. We can only do the best that we can. We also have no idea how this might mutate. Viruses can mutate very readily (HIV as a gold standard example, but also partly why we have to re-vaccinate for the flu each year) and RNA viruses are even more prone to mutation. Given the rate of transmission and fatality, and the possibility for mutation or even a horizontal gene transfer event if someone is infected with multiple viruses at the same time, I think a healthy dose of caution is more than called for in this situation.
The good news, in my estimation, is that a lot of people are working on not letting any of the bad scenarios happen. A good comparison might be Y2K. Many people look back at Y2K and think it was an overblown event that didn't cause any issues and there was nothing to worry about. The reality is that there was nothing to worry about because a lot of people spent a lot of time making sure it didn't cause issues. I was too young to have been aware of it at the time but have since read about it and my takeaway is that Y2K was not a disaster because many many many programmers put in heaps of effort to make the changes necessary to avoid calamity. Ideally this coronavirus outbreak will go down a similar path. Unfortunately its completely reactionary in this situation, but people are working hard to mitigate it as fast as possible and to understand the full extent of the risk and develop a plan for managing it going forward. This is where the Chinese government's actions cause big concern in my mind. Them withholding information about the extent and severity of the epidemic makes the jobs of the people working on this situation much more challenging. Maybe the information is available within China more readily, and there are likely many Chinese scientists and doctors working on this, but there is an international community of scientists who may be able to assist who are hamstrung by a lack of information.
This is my outlook on the situation. For context I have BS and MS degrees in microbiology which included coursework in virology and infectious diseases, however I do not currently work in a field related specifically to infectious disease. (I'm an industrial microbiologist.)
Mods feel free to delete if all of this is getting too off topic. Its rare that a thread on OCN treads so deeply into this subject matter, it was difficult for me to resist.
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